A Middle Way?
Bryndís, who works at the confectionary Vínberið (Laugavegur 43), says, “We’ll probably have to renovate this building. I think it’ll be good to see some houses go, but I wish they would find a middle way. This is a decision that should be made by many people; not a few.”
Einar Örn Stefánsson, managing director of the Downtown Development Society, says he understands the concerns of the merchants on Laugavegur: “It took many years to make this decision because there are so many emotions involved. Some people want no changes and some want to change everything. Those who want to take part can get involved through us, as we’re looking for representatives from the merchants.” (All interested merchants should contact Einar at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Not Just a Matter of Appearance
Einar was also quick to add that the renovation plans do have a flexibility about them, saying, “If the owner doesn’t want to sell, that’s OK. A lot of these old houses are well made and just need some repairs. Some could also expand their space with a modern building attached to the rear of the older house. But in any case, strict regulations will be put in place as to how the buildings can look.”
The question of Laugavegur’s profitability doesn’t only concern changing the street’s appearance. As Rannveig, the owner of handmade fleece clothing store Blanco y Negro (Laugavegur 12b), put it, “I find it ironic that people will drive to Kringlan and walk around inside it for two kilometres but won’t park their car downtown and walk ten metres to a shop.” Bryndís expressed much the same sentiment, adding, “It’s not easy to compete with the malls. At the same time, business owners could be doing more, such as having the same opening hours as the malls.”
Everyone Needs a Roof over their Head
Some merchants had more radical suggestions, such as Carmen, who runs the boutique Ígulker (Laugavegur 60). “I think there are many more important changes they could make to Laugavegur,” she said. “For example, they could make it a strictly pedestrian street, set a canopy over it for bad weather, and create a place for free parking nearby.”
Free parking was the one change nearly every Laugavegur merchant who spoke to Grapevine said was just as important as renovating Laugavegur, if not more so. On this point, Einar admitted, “Free parking is a beautiful thought, but everywhere in the world there are parking metres to keep people from taking a space all day.” Regarding traffic, he added, “We’re going to try to keep traffic on Laugavegur open during these renovations. The area known as “stjörnubíósveit” (where the former Stjörnubíó cinema was located) will, however, be closed this spring. No one likes it, but it has to be done and when closings are necessary we’ll be doing them in portions.”
“The Living Room of the City”
Einar concluded diplomatically, “The impact of these changes will not be immediate and we can’t make miracles happen. I can’t answer whether Laugavegur will continue to be a merchant street or if it will go the way of Skólavörðustígur and become a street of smaller shops.”
Other merchants, such as watch and clock dealer Rúnar of Úr að ofan (Laugavegur 30a), remain optimistic. “Personally I like the idea behind the renovations,” he said. “But the houses have to fit the environment and when the streets are blocked, we can feel it. But there needs to be more companies, more stable businesses here. This city centre is a place of pride. It’s the living room of the city.”
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